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The law requires full disclosureof those who purchased Professor Jammeh’s assets

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In a rather incomprehensible answer to a question from the National Assembly Member of Foni Kansala, the Honourable Dawda Jallow, Attorney General and Minister of Justice told lawmakers “… the Government might not reveal the names of individuals who bought former President Yahya Jammeh’s assets because it could be an infringement on their privacy”.

Of the transitional instruments created by the new Government and its international backers was The Commission Of Inquiry Into The Financial Activities Of Public Bodies, Enterprises And Offices As Regards Their Dealings With Former President Yahya AJJ Jammeh And Connected Matters.

… Among the mantras making the public rounds were “new Gambia”, and “never again”. In sum, the country undertook to consign public lawlessness to history. Stated differently, governance under law must be the guarantor of the dignity of every Gambian, and of the protection of public property, a philosophy that appeared not to have reached the minister.

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It was extraordinary that notwithstanding the assets question of the Professor arose out of an Act of Parliament triggered by an urgent need to address the abuse of power at the heart of Gambian public life, the minister erroneously employed privacy as a prophylactic against accountability.

As an entrenched fundamental right, Section 23 (1) of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia on privacy reads: “No person shall be subject to interference with the privacy of his or her home, correspondence or communications except as is in accordance with law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the protection of health or morals, for the prevention of disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

At the elemental level, “… the right of privacy is: the right of a person to be free from unwarranted publicity, the unwarranted appropriation or exploitation of one’s personality, the publicizing of one’s private affairs with which the public has no legitimate concern …”.

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Where billions of dalasis were lost to the treasury, and over a billion recovered from the assets of the Professor, the funds realized must be utilised to advance the public interest. It was not proper that those assets were recovered and sold by friends to friends in complete secrecy. To avoid conflict of interest, government officers must not be able to sell recovered assets of the Professor to themselves or to each other.

Equally, the rule of law and public accountability dictate that members of this particular commission must not be able to purchase anything from the Professor’s seized assets either for themselves or for family members as that is the embodiment of conflict of interest. It is therefore necessary for the minister to disclose the identities of all those who made purchases from the Professor’s assets given the legitimate public interest in the matter.

Without question, the minister was aware that politically, philosophically, ethically and legally his postulation was wrongheaded. The transaction implicates no legitimate privacy issues.

What The Gambia needs is a system change that liberates holders of public office from themselves. The minister’s position is indefensible and there must be full disclosure of who purchased what and for how much. I am convinced he wouldn’t advance such argument outside Government.

The Barrow Administration was founded on the straightforward question of liberty, dignity and accountability within the rule of law. In short, the failure of governance under law elected President Barrow in 2016. It remains the single issue up for appraisal by the ruled of the rulers.

I hope the minister is not telling Gambians he preferred lawlessness to accountability.

Note: This op-ed by Barrister Lamin J Darbo, was first published in December 2022. It has been abridged for the purposes of this editorial

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